Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Centrists Jump on Sadlowski Bandwagon: Guardian Tails Liberal Trade Unionists

First Published: The Call, Vol. 6, No. 4, January 31, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Guardian newspaper, which generally echoes the revisionist line of the Communist Party USA, has gone even further than the revisionist party in its acclaim for the campaign of liberal Ed Sadlowski for president of the United Steel Workers of America.

Putting aside their usual disdain for events directly facing workers in the steel mills, the Guardian has plunged into the Sadlowski campaign with fervor, suddenly finding an issue before the workers that the Guardian can fully and comfortably support. In doing so, the editors of the Guardian have put forward a clear defense of bourgeois trade union politics, coupled with denunciations of those struggling to revolutionize the trade unions as “ultra-leftists” and “dogmatists.”

The Guardian centrists have also found increasing unity on the pro-Sadlowski bandwagon with the economist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which is also preaching that the workers should rely on Sadlowski to bring about “real change” in the union.

“In a few weeks,” say the Guardian editors in a Jan. 19 editorial, “rank-and-file steel workers will have their first opportunity in many years to dramatically reform their union.” The Guardian claims that this “dramatic reform” can be achieved through the election of a liberal union president like Sadlowski.

Covering up Sadlowski’s role as a class collaborator who stood by silently while the burden of the present economic crisis was thrown onto the shoulders of the steel workers in his own District 31, the Guardian characterizes him as having “taken a strong stand and progressive position” in the fight against the steel monopolies. They say that the capitalists and the I.W. Abel clique, which now heads the USW are “petrified of Sadlowski.” ’

But how can the ruling class and its labor lieutenants, who have for so long used the weapons of reformism and liberalism against the workers, be petrified of another union reformer? Wasn’t Abel himself cut out of the same mold? Didn’t he run against former USW president David McDonald on a program of anti-“Tuxedo Unionism” in 1965?

The Guardian apologists heap praise on Sadlowski’s vague, liberal program as being “one worth fighting for.” Their reason? “Even in the areas where the Sadlowski program is weak,” they say, “on the fight against discrimination, and on other aspects of fighting the companies—he is at least committed to the view that things cannot continue as they have in the past.” Here it seems that the Guardian has such little confidence in the working-class struggle and in the future that they are willing to accept even empty phrases about “opposing the status-quo.”

To say that Sadlowski’s program on racial discrimination is “weak” must be the understatement of the year. It is well known that he has openly sided with Abel and the companies in pushing the racist Consent Decree, which forces minority and women workers to waive their rights in exchange for a few hundred dollars. Sadlowski’s racist stand is aimed at pulling the rug out from under the growing leadership of minority and women workers in the real struggle against discrimination in the mills.

“Some advise us,” admit the Guardian centrists, “that Sadlowski is nothing but a tool of the bourgeoisie, which hopes to use him to ’turn rank-and-file anger away from its developing revolutionary direction.” But this correct warning falls on the deaf ears of these opportunists who completely dismiss any talk of building the revolutionary movement in the steel mills. They retort: “Sadlowski, a few years from now, may try to do just that if elected. But that is not the issue at hand.”

To the opportunists, the liberal and reformist trade union leaders are not the enemy of the workers today, but may become so later on. Therefore, as they see it, the struggle against the reformists and their ideology has little, if any, importance at the present time. As a result, the Guardian apologists never take up the fight against opportunism because they see the movement for reforms as everything, while never looking after the future of the working class.

“The issue for communists,” says the Guardian, “especially in this period when their influence in the unions and the working class is small, is how to create and contribute to conditions that further politicize and propel the working class into struggle.”

This call to back Sadlowski simply because our movement has relatively small influence in the unions is the height of right-opportunism. This is precisely the time when the genuine Marxist-Leninist forces are concentrating their efforts on getting the party of the proletariat on its feet and breaking the grip of the labor opportunists on the class-conscious workers.

These workers do not need to be “propelled” into struggle. They already are in struggle. This is why the reformists are being promoted by a section of the capitalists—to keep this struggle chained to the capitalist system, especially during the present crisis when the strike movement of the worker, is at a high point. Instead of liberal “propellers,” the working-class movement needs revolutionary leadership, ideology and organization, which neither the Guardian nor any of the other opportunists is able to provide.

The Guardian editorial ends with an ironic quote from Lenin, pointing out the necessity for communists to fight for democracy in order to prepare for the victory of the proletarian revolution, ... ironic because the quote comes from Lenin’s writings on “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination.” It seems as though the Guardian centrists, long the loudest opponents of Afro-American self-determination, have suddenly discovered Lenin’s teachings on this crucial question, only to try and use them to attack Leninism with reformism.

The question in the upcoming election, however, is not whether or not to support the struggle for union democracy. There is a significant movement within the rank and file of the USW for union democracy; against the Abel reactionary clique and its Experimental Negotiating Agreement (ENA), which is being used to take away the right to strike; against racial discrimination in the coke ovens and throughout the industry; and against the growing layoffs. It is precisely on the question of how to build this movement that the struggle between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism is being waged.

It is because of such a movement among the rank and file that individuals like Sadlowski, who even calls himself a “democratic socialist,” Arnold Miller of the UMW and Douglas Fraser of the UAW are being dragged out by the capitalists. They are here to channel the workers’ struggle into liberalism and reformism and undermine the efforts to give such struggles revolutionary consciousness and direction.

But the revisionists and the Guardian, as well as the RCP, all have jumped at the liberals’ bait and joined hands with Sadlowski.

The CPUSA is using the Sadlowski campaign mainly to ride the coat tails of the liberals into power within the labor bureaucracy, while at the same time promoting Sadlowski’s pro-“detente” stand on foreign affairs.

Sadlowski has a clearly developed line m this question, reflecting the views of his financial backers among the imperialist appeasers of Soviet social-imperialism. Despite his “oil-can Eddie” image and populist claims, Sadlowski is well-schooled in foreign affairs and a bourgeois-liberal politician in his own right. His calls for defense cuts, isolationism, and “reordering priorities” coincide generally with the schemes of the imperialist and revisionist peddlers of “detente.”

This pro-“detente” stand is also right up the alley of the Guardian centrists. They praise Sadlowski’s “advocacy of a cut in the defense budget” and his “anti-interventionist views on foreign policy,” which they claim has “got the hard-line sections of the ruling class upset.”

Like the revisionist CPUSA, the Guardian singles out these “hardliners” as the enemy, while viewing the “detentists” and other apologizers for the Soviet Union as allies. But this whole gang is busily covering up the imperialist war preparations and the aggressive role of the Soviet social-imperialists. There is nothing positive in Sadlowski’s stand on international affairs, any more than there is in Abel’s. They are two sides of the same imperialist coin.

The Guardian’s call to struggle for “democracy” in the abstract is designed to make it appear that communists like the October League are failing to support real union democracy. In fact, it is the Guardian which has always shown its disdain for the day-to-day struggles of the steel workers, struggles in which the genuine communists have been active for years. The Guardian also tries to paint a picture of the OL as opponents of participation in union elections and of any and all alliances with the labor union misleaders. Of course, this is not the case. Such tactics can be used at times to expose these leaders before the masses and to sever them from their base.

But such alliances must be carried out only under certain conditions. In the first place, our right to criticize and expose these leaders must be guaranteed, and we can never prettify them as the Guardian has done. Secondly, our trade union work must be carried out in such a way as to correspond with our overall tasks in the working-class movement.

To call for support for the liberal union politicians in general, as the Guardian does, with no program for organizing the workers on a revolutionary basis is a crime. It turns the class-conscious workers into errand boys for the labor misleaders without any way to express their own independence and initiative.

Aside from their lack of struggle against Sadlowski’s social-democratic views and, in fact, their outright praise for the Sadlowski of today (“He is a reformer and that’s all he claims to be,” says the Guardian), the opportunists ignore the very conditions necessary for severing the misleaders from their base—the building of a communist party and the winning of the advanced workers to Marxism-Leninism and the party. This is no small oversight, but rather a continuation of the anti-party stand of the Guardian centrists.

Communists must carry on the work of winning the best elements of the working class, as well as the masses of workers, away from the influences of the reformist and revisionist union leaders. They must turn around the bosses’ ploy of promoting this new flock of liberals and reformists by waging a campaign of struggle and education to expose the entire labor bureaucracy. They must show that the liberals offer no real alternative, no class struggle program-but rather only class collaborationism under some fancy rhetoric.

The Guardian’s promotion of the reformists and revisionists to leadership in the union serves to reveal their bankruptcy as a newspaper serving the bourgeoisie.